Epiphany #20437: WWE wrestling and strip clubs are essentially the same thing. Obvious differences, I’ll concede, but at a primal level, they function the same way. Maybe.
Beyond the obvious trait the two share (waxing–lots and lots of waxing), both are vicarious proofs of Freudian principles. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud claims that men have certain immutable drives, and that sex and violence were two of the strongest. (yes, I know I’m simplifying, but I still think my theory works). Wrestling and stripping allow modern man, constrained by the morals and laws of civilized society, to feed those urges to some degree within a framework that doesn’t violate social norms…..at least too much.
In both cases, the human body is the center of the experience. In wrestling, the idealized male form is hyper-muscular and commanding; in stripping, toned and at least somewhat buxom–and highly flexible–is the ideal. The puritan Judeo-Christian heritage in this country is morally judgmental about the celebration of the body and the glorification of the carnal, and both wrestling and stripping are colored in mainstream America’s minds because of this bias–although admittedly, stripping is even more stigmatized in large part because puritanical America rejects sex as good, clean fun–strippers are either victims or sluts, neither good connotations; I don’t think wrestlers have the same moral condemnation overlaying their image in the covered-dish-dinner crowd, but neither stripping nor wrestling fans tend to champion their passion at the church potluck.
In fact, the celebration of brains over brawn as the hallmark of a “civilized” society resonants through Western culture. St. Paul talks about overcoming the flesh more than once, and Pythagoras admonished people: “Choose rather to be strong of soul than strong of body.” Often, people who take “too much” pride in their body are viewed as superficial; both strippers and wrestlers make their living by reveling in their bodies–in our culture, that’s easy to dismiss as vain and shallow.
Both entertainments are highly profitable–in a capitalistic society, that matters. Even in this economy, wrestling is showing a solid profit. Larry Flynt, sex business mogul, claims about $500 million a year profit--and less than $9 million of that is from his publishing. Flynt’s strip clubs are the anchor of his business–and like wrestling, there’s a solid market for what he’s selling even in these tough economic times.
The reason is simple, if Freud is right: his audience craves power/aggression and sex, especially when times are rough. Watching a wrestler or a stripper both offer ramification-free escapism: no cops involved for really punching whatever needs punched; no nagging about taking out the garbage or bills that need paid when sitting in a strip club watching an idealized female.
This isn’t the whole picture, and there are some crucial differences, too. Because I’m not a regular patron of either, there are important angles I’m sure I just don’t get. And as much as I want to wave a feminist banner and write a screed about why these appeal to men for vicarious release, I suspect that I’m going to have Epiphany #20438 when I realize what the female equivalent of these two entertainments are. I’m sure there’s something, but I’m not sure what….yet. Reality TV? Shopping? Lifetime movies? I hope not….still thinking.